When Mark Webber’s Korean Grand Prix ended in a fiery blaze, it at first appeared as if his Red Bull had suffered a rare engine blowout.
The reason for the fire was, in fact, due to an oil leak that dripped onto the exhaust, but it did get me thinking whether we will see more engine failures in 2014 with the introduction of the 1.6-litre turbocharged V6 units.
This season’s 2.4-litre normally aspirated V8 engines house a small KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System). However, next year’s cars will have to fit in a much larger energy recovery system that not only harvests extra energy under braking like the current unit but also harnesses power through the heat energy in the exhaust.
The current KERS unit releases energy at a rate of 80bhp for just 6.7 seconds per lap at the touch of a button, but next year the driver will be able to release a whopping 10 times as much energy at twice the power, providing a boost of 160bhp for 33 seconds a lap. Add to this an additional energy recovery system associated with the turbocharger and we have a lot of energy and heat under the proverbial bonnet.
It means engineers will now have to package a significantly larger cooling area into the system to cool the KERS unit as well as the air that comes from the turbocharger before it enters the engine.
Talking to Autosport.com just over a week ago, Alain Prost said that he expects reliability problems as a result, certainly at the start of the season.
I can tell you, for sure we are going to have some reliability problems, in the beginning especially.
We will see if it is only in private testing in the winter, but nobody knows at the moment.
In a way it's good because we are at the beginning with this technology, like we had with the turbos [in the 1970s and 80s].
We all need to accept that sometimes it is going to be a problem.
Reliability is always an issue. It's an issue because you have the engine and the turbo, but there are electrical parts, wires, different systems.
Even if everything is OK, you then have the integration with the car and different aspects like temperature and vibration.
On the flip side, the switch toward smaller engines and cost-cutting is aimed at fuel efficiency. The new engines are limited to using 100kg of fuel per race rather than the 160kg currently used, so we could see drivers backing off and going into fuel-saving mode.
It could make for an intriguing balancing act and perhaps a return to the common sights of the 1980s with cars running out of fuel and turbo engines expiring spectacularly.
Here’s hoping, anyway.
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